Saturday, October 6, 2012

Horror Film Review

Juan of the Dead (2011):  Zombie flick!  From Cuba!  Lots of hype surrounding this one.  And like The Horde, I've been waiting quite impatiently for its release.  The Horde is on my list of top five best zombie flicks ever.  Did Juan live up to the hype and make it onto my list?  Yes and no.

Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas) and best friend Lazaro (Jorge Molina) are slackers living in (well, mostly on top of) an apartment building in Havana.  Juan's estranged from his daughter Camila (Andrea Duro) who's moving to Miami to live with her mother.  The other members of Juan's group are Lazaro's suave, surfer-esqure son Vladi California (Andros Perugorria) who's got the hots for Camila; the very flamboyant and very gay La China (Jazz Vila); and El Primo, a bodybuilding black man the size of a Lincoln Town Car who faints at the sight of violence or blood. 

An unknown virus sweeps through the capital giving Juan and Lazaro an idea...start their own zombie killing business.  They pepper the neighborhood with fliers and answer the phone, "Juan of the dead.  We kill your loved ones."  Unfortunately, it's a short-lived venture since all prospective clients also become zombies.  Eventually they decide to leave the island and convert a convertible into an amphibious vehicle.  Juan chooses to stay behind for reasons passing understanding. 

This film is very funny.  The humor is subtle, wry, and sometimes extraordinarily dark (e.g. Lazaro keeps accidentally killing non-infected people with a spear gun).  One of the best scenes is when Juan's group is surrounded and seconds from death.  Suddenly, a pickup roars onto the scene.  A harpoon, trailing a steel cable, shot from the back of the truck strikes a pole in the midst of the undead.  Then the driver floors it and drives in a tight circle.  The result?  The mass decapitation of a few hundred zombies.  Groovy.  And the political satire is as unexpected as it is funny.  How?  Juan and company don't call them zombies.  They call them dissidents.  And the newscasters blame the whole thing on America.  Classic.


Acting:  No one sucks, I will say that.  de Villegas has a laid back almost dour acting style.  He reminds me a little of John Turturro.  Molina could be Zach Galifianakis' brother.  And Perugorria has a sort of Matthew McConaughey thing going on. 
Story:  Simple zombie structure, but dry humor and focus on interpersonal dynamics elevates it above the rabble.
Direction:  So many ways this could have been screwed up, but except for a little wandering around in the dark in the second act, it held itself together.
Production Values:  Here's the amazing part...the film was shot on location in Havana, Cuba.  And I don't mean in a few backyards and abandoned parks.  This is a low-budget movie, but the sets, film quality, sound, and lighting all pass muster.  I'm not sure what kind of filter they used, but Havana, through Shaun's camera lens, is gray and washed out. 
Gore/FX:  Yes, well...there's the beheadings.  Very cool.  Bunches of blood throughout (some over the top and silly) but they went light on the gore.  There are a number of CGI shots, and they're
uniformly good.  The best is the helicopter crashing into a government building (could've been their capitol).  And the zombie make-up is top notch.
Scares:  Not that kind of movie.
Ending:  Anti-climatic and goofy, but at least not stupid.
Verdict:  Should you see Juan of the Dead?  Oh, yeah.  It's quirky, hilarious, and hits the right notes.  And while it may not be quite as awesome as The Horde or Shaun of the Dead, it's awesome enough.

Rating:  4 out of 5.


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